By: Shane McCaffrey, Communications Volunteer
Minnesota in the past few years has been an adaptation leader for not only the pandemic, but also for the murder of George Floyd which greatly impacted Minneapolis, Minnesota, all of the United States, and globally.
As a leader in adaptation, Minnesota Governor Waltz recently passed the 100% clean energy bill that provides a path for Minnesota to reach 100% clean energy by 2040. Minnesota’s non-profit Fresh Energy has also shown that Minnesotans are ready for additional action on climate, clean energy, and environmental justice.
However, as Minnesota and Minnesotans adapt and rapidly push forward with 100% clean energy by supporting independent renewable energy production, we must first address a complex, two-part problem if we are to have success with this transition.
First, local, investor-owned utility (IOU) companies who have held monopolies on power production, transmission, and distribution to customers for decades, have not adapted timely. IOUs have made it very challenging for independent renewable energy production companies (IREPC) to connect renewable energy or distributed energy resources (DERs) to the grid via a complex interconnection protocol and with extraordinarily long application processing times. Unfortunately, as more IREPCs produce more DERs that enter the application and interconnection process, the problem will only magnify as local utilities behind the curve will struggle to keep up with the demand.
Once DERs are finally able to connect to the grid and IREPCs are able to offer subscriptions to consumers to offset the cost of producing the DERs, part two of the problem surfaces.
As a subscriber to DERs, consumers currently have to comprehend complex renewable energy jargon like Value of Solar or VOS, Renewable Energy Credit or REC, Subscription Rate, Subscription Discount, and Overproduction Credits, how these terms are calculated, and how they all tie together to produce a final bill.
Further, current tariff and state statutes that govern Minnesota compliance and the energy sector are lagging behind other states in some regards and are responsible for driving or allowing a sub-par standard of communication, transparency, and accountability between parties, which makes everything even more challenging. The sub-par standard of communication has resulted in a schism between IOU, IREPC, IREPC 3rd party billing, and between IOU, CSG, CSG 3rd party billing, and the consumer (subscriber).
Consumers are ultimately stuck between a rock and a hard place with limited resources in place, pushed into becoming analysts on their own account while trying to navigate industry jargon, to determine how and if they are “actually” saving on their energy costs. Consumers who don’t have time to become analysts when their questions go unanswered, may opt out of a community solar garden (CSG) or other subscriptions and directly impact the return on investment (ROI) of energy producers, and therefore hinder the transition to renewable energy.
Outdated Minnesota compliance is no longer suitable or acceptable for the current landscape if we are to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2040.
An update is needed legislatively in order to provide better transparency, communication, and accountability to regulate how 3rd parties communicate with IOU, IOU with 3rd parties, and how all parties communicate with the consumer to simplify the process.
Resources like consolidated billing with legends that define industry jargon, automatic subscription changes based on consumer usage, access to real-time communication and micro-grids that are not dependent on outdated IOUs are also needed. This would be a healthy start for the consumer, for Minnesota, the United States, and globally, as we come together as one community to fight the climate crisis.
As a partner of IntelEarth Innovations and new to the renewable energy industry, Shane networked, built partnerships, and attended Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association’s Gateway to Solar conference in October 2021. Shane also contributed to an agrivoltaics (crops under solar panels) mini-grant and participated in Blooming Energy Solar Design Workshop with the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota.
Shane’s passion for continued learning and advancement of renewable energy, carbon reduction, diversity, community & education continues, and he looks forward to contributing in any way he can.